Extraordinary Wines, Cuisine and Lodgings Await!

If you are planning on travel to Europe, here is an interesting proposal. A couple of months ago we visited two of the most beautiful and unlikely hotels and wineries in Spain. Somehow, Spain seems to fly under the radar compared to its next-door neighbor, France. However, Spain is the third largest wine producer in the world and the largest in Europe. According to the Organisation Internationale de la Vigne et du Vine in its 2017 report, the country has dedicated a total of 2.4 billion acres to vineyards.

There are more than 60 different regional denominations of origin (Denominación de Origen or D.O.), producing everything from great value to highly prestigious wines, such as Alvaro Palacios’ L’Ermita and Vega Silicia’s Unico. Out of all these fabulous and interesting regions, this time we decided to visit two very distinctive wineries at the northeast region of Spain–the Marques de Riscal in the region of Rioja and the Castell de Perelada in the Empordå region. 

Marqués de Riscal

In 1858, in the heart of the Rioja Alavesa, in a little town called El Ciego, the Marqués de Riscal winery was founded and became the first winery to produce wine using the Bordeaux system. In 1972, the D.O. of “Rioja” was also first used by Marqués de Riscal. Today, its wines are distributed in more than 70 countries and have been awarded some of the most distinguished international awards.

Marqués de Riscal not only represents an old winegrowing tradition but also avant-garde art and excellent gastronomy. Nestled in the renowned Vinos de los Herederos de Marqués de Riscal’s vineyard at the top of the hill is its hotel and restaurant. A titanium roof and asymmetric walls with spectacular curves dominate the medieval village’s landscape. The building is a Frank O. Gehry personal and exclusive architectural project, and, like Gehry’s other works (The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA), the voluptuous structure overwhelms the visitor.

The hotel with its 43 luxury rooms and suites of different shapes connected by a suspended footbridge offers remarkable views of the region. The visitors also have access to two remarkable restaurants: 1860 Tradition, offering an indigenous gastronomic experience, and the Marqués de Riscal, a one Michelin Star restaurant, which offers innovative cuisine.

In both, the traditional Basque cuisine of Francis Paniego, the first Riojan Chef to receive a Michelin Star in 2004, will blow you away. The visitor is exposed to a large variety of creative foods and traditional flavors. Taste an exclusive delicious crockery, unique tasteful Iberian Bellota ham, an enjoyable tomato tartar with Norwegian lobster and cold white garlic soup, or choose from a hake in green sauce with clams and “cocochas,” or early lamb chops with sautéed potato slices. Of course, one cannot miss the traditional toasted “torrija,” or French toast with “dulce de leche” (fudge spread), ice cream and cocoa soup.

All the courses are accompanied by eight house wines including reds, rosés, whites and one very exceptional jewel, the limited edition 2001 Gehry Selection. Marqués de Riscal will undoubtedly satisfy your palate and provide a unique experience.

Castell de Perelada

We continued our trip driving from the undulating plains of “La Rioja” to one of the most emblematic landmarks of the Empordà region on the shores of the Mediterranean. Castell de Perelada winery started its winemaking activity when it was first built in the 14th century by the Rocaberti Viscounts. Centuries later, in 1923, Miguel Mateu revitalized the oenological tradition of the area. The Empordà is the oldest winemaking region of the Iberian Peninsula, going back to 500BC, when ancient Greeks settled in the region.

International acclaim came in the late 1950’s when US President Dwight Eisenhower visited Spain and a small selection of Castillo Perelada’s cava, “Gran Claustro,” was chosen for his reception.

Another remarkable date in the history of the company was the great success of Perelada’s “Champagne” Rosado in the UK. The success raised the complaints of French producers such as Bollinger, Charles Heidsieck, Monopole, Krug, Lanson, Louis Roederer, Merant, Moet & Chandon, Mumm, Perrier Jouet, Pol Roger and Veuve Clicquot to the extent of taking the matter to court. The court ruled in favor of protecting the denomination of origin of the producers of the Champagne region, forcing sparkling wine producers outside the region to find an alternative denomination. In the case of Spain, the name adopted was “Cava.”

Today, the Perelada Group has grown considerably and, just recently, announced the acquisition of the Chivite Group, which includes the winery of the same name as well as the Gran Feudo and Viña Salceda wineries. This acquisition complements the earlier acquisitions of the Privat organic cava and the Oliver Conti winery in Empordà. With this acquisition, Perelada not only strengthens its presence in the Rioja, where it already owns the Fin de Siglo winery, but also in the Navarra, Ribera del Duero and Rueda regions. The wine group’s consolidated revenue now exceeds €60 million and has a presence in nearly 100 markets around the world.

Furthermore, Perelada is also in the process of building a new winery. The winery has been designed by RCR, the winner of the 2017 Pritzker Prize for architecture. It will be completed by 2019 and will be the first winery in Europe to have obtained LEED certification.

Castell de Perelada is more than just a winery, it is a full culturally immersive experience. The visitor will be delightfully amazed by the beauty of the harmoniously planted vineyards that slide down steep hills and cliffs reaching the Mediterranean waters. In addition, visitors can feel the passage of time through the hundreds of years of history enclosed behind the thick walls of the castle in its museum or taste the flavors of its gastronomy at its restaurant.

The restaurant, a one Michelin star (2018 Guide), is run by chef Xavier Sagristà, prior El Bulli and Mas Pau chef, together with sommelier Toni Gerez. The visitor can enjoy the haute cuisine culinary tradition and avant-garde presentation that utilizes high quality products of the region.

Another incredible attraction that visitors can enjoy are the performances organized by the Castell de Perelada Festival. Founded in 1987 out of the love of music of its president, Carmen Mateu, the Festival contributes to the international cultural and musical environment. It offers a quality selection of performances covering a range of genres during the months of July and August every year. In 2018, they have already scheduled tenor Jonas Kaufmann, and the Opera “Thais: The story of two journeys in opposite directions,” with the participation of Placido Domingo and Michele Angelini.

The Castle also includes a legendary casino, for those that want to tempt luck, and an 18-hole golf course to indulge those that love the links. After all these activities, the visitor can retire to enjoy a relaxing and intimate time at the Hotel Perelada Wine & Spa Golf. Surrounded by the beautiful silence of the medieval monasteries in the area, the visitor will experience a trip back in time and revitalize the body through the therapeutic benefits of wine and relaxation.